I Was Wait-Listed! Now What?
By Thomas Broderick
Throughout the fall semester of senior year, college-bound students and their families are caught up in the stresses of the college admission season. Then, once the last application goes in the mail around January 1st, comes the waiting game: four months of nervous anticipation.
April 1st represents the light at the end of the tunnel. On that day, you will receive ‘fat’ or ‘thin’ envelopes from the colleges to which you applied. Then, like Christmas morning, the envelopes arrive! And………
You were wait-listed.
Getting wait-listed, especially from your dream college, can feel like a punch to the gut, even worse than outright rejection.
If this should happen to you, don’t feel bad about feeling bad. I’m not gonna lie: your situation isn’t an ideal one. Take a moment (or a day) to feel frustrated. Know that many people besides you don’t have kind words when speaking about college waitlists. After that, continue reading to see how you can make the most of the next few weeks.
Cover Your Bases
Feel better now? Get some sleep? Good. Let’s talk about the next four weeks when college admissions counselors make their final decisions about which wait-listed applicants will make the final cut.
As you might already know, their final decision depends on how many accepted students will decide to attend. If a college receives enough new students from the group of accepted students, no one on the waitlist gets in. This happens more often than you think. If fewer than expected students agree to attend, then the college selects applicants off the waitlist. So how do they choose which wait-listed students to accept? That brings us to my first point:
Call the Admissions Office
Every college is different when it comes to their waitlists. When some colleges decide to accept another wait-listed student, they choose one at random. Other colleges rank their wait-listed students and take them in order of preference. If the latter is the case, they will likely tell you your ranking. If you’re near the bottom, you need to make some difficult decisions (see the next section).
If you’re near the top, or your dream college doesn’t rank its wait-listed applicants, you have some work to do.
Show the College that You’re Still a Competitive Applicant
Some colleges ask their wait-listed students to send up-to-date transcripts. After all, your original application likely didn’t have any grades from your senior year. Solid academic performance can help your application rise to the top of the pile.
Moral of the story: it always pays to stay on top of your senior year grades.
Along with transcripts, you can also include other items, such as a short letter, that updates admissions counselors on your academic and personal accomplishments that happened since you applied. Every little bit helps, so you might as well brag about yourself.
Prepare for Some Difficult Decisions
Up until now, we’ve haven’t touched on your OTHER college admission letters you received on or around April 1st. I’m sure there were a few rejections, along with (hopefully) a few acceptances. Let’s focus on the latter. Take a moment to feel proud that you did, in fact, receive a few fat envelopes.
Now comes the hard part. Do you continue waiting for a possible yes from your dream college, or choose to attend one of the colleges that accepted you? How do you make such an important decision in such a short amount of time?
A Bird in the Hand…
I’m going to strongly recommend that unless your name is at or near the top of your dream college’s waitlist, you should attend one of the colleges that accepted you, especially if that college’s tuition is less or you have a scholarship.
Why make such a blunt recommendation? Here are my reasons:
- You’ll finally have closure.
- You can start planning for the transition to college sooner rather than later.
- If the college you select costs less than your dream school, you’ll be saving you and your family from a possible financial burden that could last years if not decades after you graduate.
It can be incredibly difficult to give up on your dream school, but trust me when I say the potential benefits outweigh any risks.
Being wait-listed may be a bummer and stressor, but it’s also an opportunity. Use April to decide what you REALLY want out of college. Step back from the importance you put on your dream college, and reevaluate the best option for your future. Then, and only then, make your decision.